No Recourse to Public Funds: Why this policy of hostility disproportionally affects migrant women in UK
Date Posted: Tuesday 21st July 2020
Among the many social injustices exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, severe income losses and the breakdown of vital support systems has resulted in thousands of law-abiding migrant families plummeting into destitution or serious financial hardship. Whilst the government should be doing everything they can to protect their most vulnerable citizens, the continual implementation of prohibitive policies like the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) rule has exacerbated these financial struggles even further, leaving women and children stranded by the very social security that is supposed to protect them.
As a heavily criticised remnant of the UK’s hostile environment, the NRPF conditions prevents migrants from accessing welfare benefits, income allowance and universal credit if they are ‘subject to immigration control’; a category which encompasses legal, documented migrants who have a valid limited leave to enter or remain, often on the ten year route to Indefinite Leave to Remain or British Citizenship.
According to the charity Children’s Society, the benefits ban starves 1 millions adults from outside the European Economic Area and 143,000 children from receiving public funds, instead granting high risks of destitution, exploitation and abuse. Not to mention the aggravation of health risks, increasing poverty and generalised insecurity brought on by the Coronavirus crisis.
Exposing the NRPF injustices
Public attention has turned to the policy’s harsh realities after Boris Johnson was confronted by Labour MP Stephen Timms to address the many families currently ‘being forced by the current arrangements into destitution’ as a result of the NRPF condition. A confused Prime Minister unveiled a complete oblivion to what his policy of NRPF actually was, requiring Timms to explain how a families’ leave to remain conditions means they are not eligible for ‘Universal Credit, or ESA’ as suggested by Johnson.
Whilst the Prime Minister pledged to review the policy during the pandemic, the Home Office’s updated guidance on NRPF means that only those with Leave to Remain under a Family Visa or those who can prove they face ‘imminent destitution’ will be exempt from the rule. This positive, yet limited step arises far from governmental pressure, instead, coming after an eight year old boy took the Home Office to court for denying his family access to the welfare safety net. His mother, who was granted leave to remain in 2009, works as a low-paid carer for mentally disabled people and struggles as a single parent to support herself and her son, who was born in the UK.
Illuminating the policy’s overt injustices to vulnerable civilians in our society, the boy had moved school five times, been street homeless and lived his entire life in extreme poverty, with his mother, on her ten-year route to settlement, having to find over £2,000 every few years to ensure she could continue her UK residence. In the court’s landmark ruling in favour of the boy, they argued “we find it impossible to identify the message that the Secretary of State is under a legal obligation not to impose, or to lift, the condition of NRPF in a case where the applicant is not yet suffering, but will imminently suffer, inhuman and degrading treatment without recourse to public funds.”
Despite the case exposing the system’s disgraceful flaws in driving a desperate eight year old boy away from the playground and into the courts, Priti Patel still refuses to lift the NRPF condition during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Targeting the most vulnerable
Sadly, cases of struggling single mothers trying to survive under the weight of NRPF is far too common. According to one report by the Unity Project, an estimated 85% of individuals applying to have the NRPF condition lifted were women, nearly all of whom were single mothers. Trapped from accessing free childcare services and employment, women can neither access state support nor earn money to support their child, leading to the report’s conclusion that NRPF ‘indirectly discriminates’ against women, who are statistically almost always likely to be worse impacted financially by a relationship breakdown than the father.
Indirect sex-based discrimination is additionally faced by pregnant women whose higher financial needs – such as the average £500 of essential products needed for the baby in the first month– and inability to work for a significant time before that, still does not equate to an exemption from the NRPF barriers. Furthermore, undocumented pregnant women, including many trafficking and modern slavery victims, are also barred from public funds, instead forced to rely on a dysfunctional National Referral Mechanism (NRM) system which failed 752 victims between 2015-17 by refusing them financial aid, counselling and housing.
Migrant women are much more likely to be subject to domestic abuse, yet the NRPF policy prevents them from accessing vital domestic violence support services. Whilst the Office for National Statistics estimates 7.5% of British women to have experienced domestic abuse in 2017, the Unity Project report found an approximate 23% of destitute women with NRPF to experience domestic violence. For example, women staying in domestic violence services usually have to pay rent which is often funded through public funds such as housing benefits.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the NRPF rule made life almost impossible for families, particularly single mothers left with no choice but to raise their children in extreme poverty and deprivation. Amidst a global pandemic – a time where solidarity and compassion are imperative – hostility continues to outweigh basic human rights. The only solution: scrap the NRPF condition for good.